Bill requiring driver’s ed for RI parents heads to Raimondo

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo could soon determine whether many parents will be required to take their own version of driver’s ed in order for their teenagers to get behind the wheel.

The General Assembly gave final approval Monday to legislation creating a new education course that would be required for parents who want their children to get a driver’s license before age 18. The bill passed the House 55-11 on a nearly party-line vote, with most Republicans voting no. It passed the Senate 26-9 earlier this month.

Raimondo will now have to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

Supporters said the bill ensures parents are knowledgeable about the “privileges and responsibilities” that come with driving, including limited instructional permits and limited provisional licenses. Lawmakers said that when parents are more educated about driving laws, teenagers are generally more safe behind the wheel.

Under the legislation, at least one parent of a 16- or 17-year-old aspiring driver would have to take the course.

“We received testimony on this bill that our neighbors in Massachusetts, who have a similar parent course, have experienced a significant drop in accident rates among teenage drivers since the course started,” said Sen. Hannah Gallo, a sponsor of the bill. “Two hours is a relatively small investment when it yields real results in keeping your teenager safer behind the wheel.”

Many parents with multiple children will only have to take the course once, as successful completion is valid for five years, according to the legislature. The requirement could come into effect as early as January 1 of next year, but that would depend on when and if the state Department of Education approves the course.

The Assembly said the course would be available both online and in-person, and would be provided free of charge.

“Graduated licenses didn’t exist when most teens’ parents learned to drive,” said House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi, a co-sponsor of the bill. “When we were kids, teenagers could just go to driver’s ed, get their permit, and get a full license the day they passed their road test, as soon as their 16th birthday if they planned it well.”

“It’s a much more complex system these days, with rules about when kids can be on the road and with whom,” he said. “Parents need to know exactly what those rules are so they can be sure their young drivers are following them appropriately.”

Some parents understand the skepticism about the proposed benefits of a required course, including Mike Carvalho of Lincoln.

“Many would consider it a waste of time because, ‘I’ve already taken my license 20 years ago so why would I need to do it again’?” Carvalho said.

“But the other thought is it’s good to be able to teach your kids how to drive properly and re-educate yourself on driving laws,” he added.

Brianna Jones of Coventry agreed with Carvalho’s latter point, saying that there were many rule changes she wasn’t aware of when teaching her daughter how to drive.

“I didn’t know a lot of the rules to tell her so I think a class like that would really be helpful for parents to know different things that have changed since they got their license,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of things I just wasn’t sure of and she actually taught me a few things.”

AAA has expressed interest in financing the course out of its own funds, although the Board of Education will officially implement the law and CCRI would have to support the course’s subject matter, according to Assembly leaders.

“In Massachusetts, the crash rates of young drivers – 16- and 17-year-olds – was cut in half in five years, from 2008 to 2013,” AAA Senior Vice President, Public and Government Affairs Lloyd Albert said. “The reason for crash reduction wasn’t only a parent class, but it was certainly a contributing factor.”

If AAA stops offering the course and no other organization steps in to provide it, the course would no longer be required, Assembly leaders said.